Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune

A Modern Thanksgiving Menu to Change Things Up

There's always room for a little creativity around the holidays
Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune

It’s that time of year again. The time when dreams of stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes and decadent turkeys dance endlessly in your head. But this year, you might find yourself wanting to add some flair to your favorite turkey day dishes, especially if you’re keeping the celebration small. Whether it’s a turkey dressed in bold spices or new twists on go-to classics, this is the experimental, modern Thanksgiving menu for any creative home cook. 

Air Fryer Turkey Breast

Air Fryer Turkey Breast
Anna Puzatykh/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air fryers are the hippest kitchen tool of the year. You can use them to cook anything from bacon to Brussels sprouts … but a turkey? Could that possibly be too daring? Not to us. This easy-to-bake turkey breast recipe is perfect if you’re feeding a small crowd this holiday season.

For the Air Fryer Turkey Breast recipe, click here.

Braised Turkey with Moroccan Spices

Braised Turkey with Moroccan Spices
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Don’t have an air fryer? No problem. Braise a turkey with a delicious blend of Moroccan spices. Prepare your holiday turkey by cutting it into pieces, then rubbing the spice mixture on all sides of the turkey breast halves, thighs and drumsticks and roasting the meat alongside carrots, onion, fennel and leeks.

For the Braised Turkey with Moroccan Spices recipe, click here.

Roast Turkey Kissed with Maple and Smoke

Roast Turkey Kissed with Maple and Smoke
E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune; Mark Graham / food styling

If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a five-star chef, this is the recipe for you. Not only does the maple syrup brine give the roast turkey an elevated, slightly sweet flavor profile, but the pan sauce — a mixture of bourbon, smoked salt and cider vinegar — adds a homestyle flair to the dish.

For the Roast Turkey Kissed with Maple and Smoke recipe, click here.

Coffee-Rubbed Roast Turkey

Coffee-Rubbed Roast Turkey

Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune

Anyone who drinks coffee simply for the flavor will be stoked about this recipe. A whole turkey is generously rubbed with coffee and paprika and placed into a pan with onion, chopped oranges and several sprigs of fresh sage, parsley and thyme. After baking, the turkey will have a nice, deep color from the rub.

For the Coffee-Rubbed Roast Turkey recipe, click here.

Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze

Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze
Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune

When you think about Thanksgiving, plenty of roasted veggies, hearty proteins and comforting starch dishes probably pop into your mind. But this year, the surprise MVP of the food-centric holiday will be pomegranates. Coated in a glaze made with thyme, shallots, pomegranate juice and sugar, this oven-roasted turkey has a subtle fruity flavor.

For the Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze recipe, click here.

Kohlrabi and Squash Gratin

Kohlrabi and Squash Gratin
Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling

We know what you’re thinking: Who has the time and precision needed to make a gratin on Thanksgiving? Especially after a holiday cocktail or two. Luckily, this kohlrabi and squash gratin recipe maintains the cheesy flavor of a traditional gratin with none of the skill required. Start cooking the dish on the stovetop, then simply add it to a baking dish and pop it in the oven.

For the Kohlrabi and Squash Gratin recipe, click here.

Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin Risotto
Courtesy of McCormick

To make a successful risotto, the texture has to be on point. Ditch stovetop versions of the side dish and bake it in the oven, like this recipe does. Made with canned pumpkin, sage and garlic powder, this is the quintessential fall dish to add to your modern Thanksgiving menu.

For the Pumpkin Risotto recipe, click here.

Crispy Indian-Spiced Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Indian-Spiced Brussels Sprouts
E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune

Any true Thanksgiving dinner needs at least one roasted vegetable. But seasoning it with just salt and pepper? Child’s play. This recipe dresses Brussels sprouts with traditional Indian spices that give the veggie a bold and playful flavor.

For the Crispy Indian-Spiced Brussels Sprouts recipe, click here.

‘Burnt’ Brussels Sprouts with Black Garlic

‘Burnt’ Brussels Sprouts with Black Garlic
Courtesy of Mareya Ibrahim

Don’t take the name of this dish too seriously — these Brussels sprouts are cooked to perfection. Tossed with coconut oil, black garlic, tomato paste, paprika and vinegar, the cruciferous veggie is given a unique umami flavor from the seasonings’ char.

For the “Burnt” Brussels Sprouts with Black Garlic recipe, click here.

Pumpkin and Kale Lasagna

Pumpkin and Kale Lasagna
Courtesy of Jason Goldstein

Any good, modern holiday menu has a vegetarian entree option, and this lasagna recipe is better than a boring roasted cauliflower. Loaded with pumpkin, ricotta, mushrooms and kale, this comforting recipe is jam-packed with autumnal flavors.

For the Pumpkin and Kale Lasagna recipe, click here.

Long Beans With Buttered Macadamias and Chipotle

Long Beans With Buttered Macadamias and Chipotle
Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Ah, green beans. They’re like the guest at holiday dinners that no one invites but always shows up anyway. But you can easily make this dish a welcome addition. Substitute normal beans for long beans. This will add a fun, modern ingredient to your table instead of mom’s canned beans. Elevate the flavor with macadamia nuts roasted with smoked chipotle chile pepper and lemon zest.

For the Long Beans With Buttered Macadamias and Chipotle recipe, click here.

Crusty Bread, Bacon and Pineapple Stuffing

Crusty Bread, Bacon and Pineapple Stuffing
Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling

People say that turkey is the star of the show during Thanksgiving, but truly, what would the holiday feast be without stuffing? This year, instead of sausage, use bacon and pineapple to give a tropical twist to the dish. The salty and sweet flavors work well with a seedy whole-grain bread.

For the Crusty Bread, Bacon and Pineapple Stuffing recipe, click here.

Two-Bread Stuffing With Sausage, Bacon and Raisins

Two-Bread Stuffing With Sausage, Bacon and Raisins
Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune; Styling by Corrine Kozlak

If you want to go modern with your stuffing while still keeping those traditional ingredients, add this two-bread stuffing recipe to your menu. Mix together a dark bread (like pumpernickel) with a cubed baguette. Add in some bacon, sausage and raisins, and you’ve got a decadent stuffing that’s both familiar and exciting.

For the Two-Bread Stuffing With Sausage, Bacon and Raisins recipe, click here.

Chipotle Cranberry Relish

Chipotle Cranberry Relish
bhofack2/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Side dishes like cranberry sauce and gravy are essential during Thanksgiving. They add an extra layer of moisture to turkey, stuffing and potatoes. But this cranberry relish takes the dish up a notch — even people who aren’t fans of cranberry sauce will love it. Be sure to add in the chile slowly, so that the cranberries are the primary flavor.

For the Chipotle Cranberry Relish recipe, click here.

Rum and Pepper Pan Gravy

Rum and Pepper Pan Gravy
Mike J. Wolfe/Shutterstock

If you plan to make the coffee-rubbed roast turkey, accompanying it with this rum and pepper pan gravy is a no-brainer. The creative blend of arrowroot, aged rum, gravy darkener and fresh herb sprigs effortlessly complements the toasted flavor from the coffee grinds and paprika rub.

For the Rum and Pepper Pan Gravy recipe, click here.

Ginger Praline Pumpkin Pie

Ginger Praline Pumpkin Pie
Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Sure, classic pumpkin pie is one of the best desserts for the holiday season, but why have one fall flavor when you can have two? This recipe uses ginger snap cookies and crystallized ginger as a praline topping to traditional pumpkin pie.

For the Ginger Praline Pumpkin Pie recipe, click here.

Pumpkin Chocolate Tart

Pumpkin Chocolate Tart

Courtesy of In The Raw® brand

Not a fan of pralines? No worries. You can still add flair to your favorite pumpkin-themed desserts. This one uses a chocolate cookie crumb crust to hold the pumpkin pie filling. Top it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and you’ve got an imaginative Thanksgiving dessert.

For the Pumpkin Chocolate Tart recipe, click here.

Butterscotch Cream Pie With Cookie Crust

Butterscotch Cream Pie With Cookie Crust
Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune

No need to stop there. Keep the cookie crust train rolling with this butterscotch cream pie. Instead of chocolate cookie crumbs, you’ll smash up some Belgian cookies. The crushed treats serve as a vessel for the brown butter butterscotch pudding.

For the Butterscotch Cream Pie With Cookie Crust recipe, click here.

Chipotle Turkey and Black Bean Shepherd's Pie

Chipotle Turkey and Black Bean Shepherd's Pie
Courtesy of Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling

Sure, you can modernize pretty much any traditional Thanksgiving dish you’d like, but if you really want to re-imagine your turkey day feast, this shepherd’s pie is the way to do it. Loaded with classic Thanksgiving flavors like mashed potatoes and turkey, this shepherd’s pie is taken to the next level by the addition of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and chili powder.

For the Chipotle Turkey and Black Bean Shepherd's Pie recipe, click here.

Turkey Pumpkin Chili

Turkey Pumpkin Chili
Courtesy of West of the Loop

Another way to totally reimagine the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving (and cook for a small crowd), is by making a chili. This recipe combines fall favorites like turkey and pumpkin into one hearty soup. Top it with sour cream and cheese to give it that homestyle cooking comfort. Only want to dip a toe into a modern Thanksgiving repertoire? That’s great, too. Consider a traditional holiday menu instead.

For the Turkey Pumpkin Chili recipe, click here.

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